For many sick children, access to life-saving treatment simply depends on where they live.
Francesca Mya Mathurin, who likes to go by her middle name “Mya,” traveled thousands of miles to St. Louis get treatment.
“She kept complaining of tummy aches and I kept bringing her to her pediatrician,” explained Ania Eugene-Marc, the 9-year old’s mother. “She was on her way to school and she tripped and fell. When she stood up, her knees buckled beneath her and she fell again, like she couldn’t stand.”
The family lives on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. After many initial tests failed to find a problem with Mya’s health, doctors there spotted a cyst on her spinal cord thanks to an MRI.
On the island, her options for surgery were limited.
“She had become paralyzed, flaccid, so she had no strength or tone whatsoever,” explained Dr. Philippe Mercier, a SLUCare Neurosurgeon at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Mercier connected with Mya through an international organization called World Pediatric Project. The group identifies children living in countries that cannot provide the treatment they need and connects them with health care professionals in the U.S.
“We bring them in primarily from the Caribbean, Central America, kids with complex medical and surgical problems that will just never get that care at home,” explained Dr. John Peter, the Chief Medical Officer at Cardinal Glennon.
Dr. Peter said Cardinal Glennon covers the costs of the patient’s healthcare while World Pediatric Project covers the cost of transportation, housing and other non-medical assistance.
Dr. Mercier decided Mya needed surgery immediately.
“We started her on steroids, I got the pictures, and I contacted World Pediatric Project and I said, 'Look, if she stays this way for very long, she won’t be able to walk.'”
The family flew to the U.S. for surgery about two weeks ago. Dr. Mercier said he was unable to remove the entire cyst wall, but he was able to open it up and remove the fluid inside that was building up and putting pressure on Mya’s spine.
“For her, this makes a difference of being in a wheelchair for the rest of her life [or] possibly having the cyst continue to grow, affect her arms, and then her brain stem,” he said.
He said the operation was successful, and by mid-September, Mya was ready for a check-up.
Just weeks after surgery, the 9-year-old showed doctors how she is already walking with the help of a walker. She delivered thank you cards to the medical team that treated her, as well as the Cardinal Glennon’s Chief Operating Officer, Damon Harbison, during a meeting with World Pediatric Project.
Mya’s mother said she is grateful to the organization and the hospital for the chance to get her daughter help.
“Being able to come here and get help, it’s really great, it’s really appreciated,” she said. “For everyone that can’t afford to get medical treatment back home … This is a great opportunity to get help. To see that your child matters. That you matter.”